Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) solutions are quickly gaining traction as a preferred way to connect users to their applications. And for good reason. As companies rely more and more on cloud-based applications and the internet, historic WAN architecture that sent traffic from branch locations to a data center at company headquarters no longer makes sense. It causes delays, degrades the performance of applications, and consumes expensive leased-line bandwidth.
As a result, more and more companies are making the move to an application-aware SD-WAN solution that uses software to more intelligently route traffic based on the business requirements for an application. If you’ve decided your business could benefit from an SD-WAN solution and you’re preparing to make the leap for your company, there are six critical things you need to keep in mind to select the best SD-WAN solution to suit your needs.
Architecture of the SD-WAN Solution
One major thing to consider when exploring SD-WAN solutions is whether you want a cloud-based, on premise, or combination architecture for your solution. With a cloud-based solution, there’s less hardware to manage. There’s usually no requirement to host a server onsite. Cloud-based solutions can be configured to receive automatic updates and feature upgrades. Companies that don’t have the trained staff or time to manage equipment might opt for a completely cloud-based solution.
Some people are more comfortable with a physical appliance they can touch, plug in, and manage. While cloud-based solutions are very secure, some customers feel physical on-premise devices offer more security. They like to have control of the physical devices and know what upgrades and updates are being applied to their network before they happen.
Customers sometimes ask us which option is best, but there isn’t a right-or-wrong answer to that question. We often find the best solutions blend both cloud-based and physical functionality. But it really depends on a number of factors that are specific to your company’s needs. So we have a series of questions we ask that help determine the architecture that will allow you to get the most out of your SD-WAN solution.
Network Security Provided by the SD-WAN
An SD-WAN is basically a solution that builds VPNs over some type of WAN connection so all sites can be connected together. When deploying this solution to connect to the public internet, you need to have security features built in. You need to select a platform that allows for the encryption methods and security elements that are important to you.
Many solutions, especially those that are cloud-based, provide software updates for security vulnerabilities. Cloud-based solutions keep up with security threats almost automatically. But it’s important you select a vendor you know is on top of their game with security updates. Many solutions also feature a licensable integrated advanced threat protection against malware and internet attacks. It’s also common for solutions to include an intrusion prevention system (IPS) and allow you to control where users can go on the internet.
When looking at physical solutions, it’s important to consider how difficult it will be to keep up with the security updates. While performing the actual update is typically a pretty small lift, if it causes an outage it introduces new headaches. Cloud-based solutions are always up.
SD-WAN Connectivity Bandwidth Specifications
What are your bandwidth needs today and how do you expect them to change in the next three to five years? It’s important to identify an SD-WAN solution that will grow to the specs of your future connectivity needs. Especially if you have locations in rural areas where there are limited options for WAN connections, you might need to look for solutions that have optimization and acceleration features built in. When you’re unable to get an optimal connection, these solutions will help you to get the most performance out of your available links.
You don’t want an appliance at a remote site to become a bottleneck. Every appliance has throughput specifications. It’s important to select an appliance that will be able to support you internet connection and have the ability to grow as your specs increase. It’s important to also determine how easy it is to add on new sites, and understand the equipment and licensing needs for them.
Cost Savings of SD-WAN Options
For some of our customers, cost savings is the most important consideration when choosing an SD-WAN solution. The primary cost benefit of utilizing SD-WAN is it enables you to use low cost public internet circuits instead of more expensive private internet circuits. Secure WAN activity can replace those traditional MPLS circuits, and you can create secure tunnels for traffic across public internet.
The lower cost means you can use two or more cheaper public internet circuits and have the same security with more paths. Using two public internet circuits is considerably more affordable than one private MPLS or fiber connection. So if one WAN fails, you have backup connectivity. It’s a more affordable way to have always-on high-speed internet access.
This is becoming more important as the number of people working from home is at an all-time high. Many SD-WAN solutions offer an easy way to send an appliance out for users to work from home. They offer a smaller SD-WAN gateway meant for home users, allowing remote workers to plug into the internet and have all of the functionality they would have in the office.
Complexity of SD-WAN Management
It’s also important to consider the resources you have to manage your SD-WAN solution. You don’t want to chase bells and whistles you don’t need just to end up with a more complex network that requires more people and time than you have available.
While there are solutions available that can accomplish almost anything, many of our customers are looking to scale back the complexity and make the system easier to manage. So it’s important to consider the functionality you need versus what’s available. If you will be adding new sites to the network in the future, you may be interested in solutions that allow you to deploy zero-touch provisioning. As an admin, you can send the device to a new site, it can be plugged in, and it will register and configure itself and start working without any intervention from an IT technician. We typically recommend this for anyone with 10 or more sites to manage, or companies that are geographically spread out and don’t have IT support at all locations.
It’s important to note that the features customers need drive the complexity of their solution. More features will come with additional management complications. At a minimum, you need a solution that allows you to monitor the health of the network, receive notifications, and make day-to-day changes as needed. For more complex requirements, Applied Technologies often helps customers build profiles to make the infrastructure work. Prebuilt profiles make feature-rich solutions more manageable for on-site tier 2 or 3 engineers to manage.
Automated Traffic Routing Needs
One of the most advantageous features of an SD-WAN solution is the ability to automatically route traffic across different WAN connections based on congestion and network performance. The SD-WAN can be utilized to automatically use the best connection for the most critical traffic and lower quality connections or less critical traffic, like guest access for instance. Most SD-WAN solutions can do this, but some are better than others and can monitor and respond to traffic in real time. These self-learning systems can allow you to configure policies that ensure critical traffic is always guaranteed a certain amount of bandwidth, and what’s left over is fair game for other traffic.
Traditional WANs can accomplish this, but not very easily. SD-WAN turns a very manual and time-consuming process into a simple task with dashboards that show you how the solution is working and how traffic is being used.
Make the Right Decision for You with Applied Technologies
As your partner in deploying an SD-WAN solution, Applied Technologies can help you make the right decisions for your organization’s needs. We meet you where you are on your SD-WAN journey, listen to your concerns and unique circumstances, and help you find and implement the solution that will provide the greatest impact. Whether you’ve already made up your mind on what you need or you’re just getting started, Applied Technologies can architect and deliver a solution to get you where you need to be. Reach out to our team today to start the conversation.